National News

Lighting the Way

‍‍2015-04-23 10:09:17 - כח כסלו תשעה mjankovitz

In its first three days, the crowdsourced fundraising campaign for the Kosher Switch nearly met its $50,000 goal.

In its first three days, the crowdsourced fundraising campaign for the Kosher Switch nearly met its $50,000 goal.

NEW YORK — It promises a revolutionary innovation that could transform Jewish Sabbath observance.

By changing the way a light switch works, the patented Kosher Switch offers a novel — and, its backers say, kosher — way to turn light switches (and, perhaps, other electrical appliances) on and off during Shabbat, circumventing one of the Sabbath’s central restrictions: the use of electricity.

In just three days, the product’s backers have raised more than $45,000 toward a $50,000 fundraising goal on Indiegogo, the crowdsourced fundraising website, to start manufacturing the device.

Menashe Kalati, the device’s inventor, calls it a “long overdue, techno-halachic breakthrough.” (Halachah refers to traditional Jewish law.)

But critics say the Kosher Switch isn’t really kosher for Shabbat at all — and that Kalati is  misrepresenting rabbinic opinions on the matter to give the false impression that he has their  endorsements.

At issue is whether the device’s permissibility for Shabbat relies on a Jewish legal loophole that applies only to extraordinary circumstances such as medical or security needs. The loophole, known as a “gramma,” allows for indirect activation of electronic devices on Shabbat.

How does gramma work? If, for example, a non-life-threatening field fire is burning on Shabbat, jugs full of water may be placed around the fire to indirectly cause its eventual extinguishing. Dowsing the fire directly — a Sabbath prohibition — is permitted only in life-threatening circumstances.

Kalati, 43, says his switch does not rely on the gramma loophole. When the switch is in the off position, a piece of plastic blocks an electronic light pulse that when received turns on the light. Turning the switch on moves the piece of plastic, which is not connected to anything electrical, so that it no longer obstructs the pulse. Because the light pulse is subject to a “random degree of uncertainty” and won’t instantaneously kindle the light when in Sabbath mode, it is kosher for use on Shabbat, according to the video.

This “adds several layers of Halachic uncertainty, randomness, and delays, such that according to Jewish law, a user’s action is not considered to have caused a given reaction,” the company says on its website. (Kalati’s office did not respond to phone calls or emails.)

In the Indiegogo video, Kalati says his team has spent years on research and development, during which “we’ve been privileged to meet with Torah giants who have analyzed, endorsed and blessed our technology and endeavors.”

But Yisrael Rosen, head of the Zomet Institute, the leading designer of electronic devices for use on the Jewish Sabbath, says the Kosher Switch is unfit for Sabbath use.

“Today, Israeli media reported the invention of an electric ‘Kosher switch’ for Shabbat, with the approval of various rabbis. This item was recycled from 2010 and already then denials and renunciation by great rabbinic authorities were published regarding everyday use for this product,” Rosen wrote Tuesday on Zomet’s website. “No Orthodox rabbi, Ashkenazi or Sephardi, has permitted this ‘Gramma’ method for pure convenience.”

Rosen appended a letter from Rabbi Yehoshua Neuwirth, the first rabbi whose endorsement appears in the Kosher Switch video — in a one-second pull quote reading “I, too, humbly agree to the invention” — suggesting that his endorsement was misrepresented.

“To allow one a priori to turn on electricity on Shabbat — impossible, and I never considered permitting except for the needs of a sick person or security,” reads the letter, which bears Neuwirth’s signature and letterhead and is addressed to the manager of Kosher Switch. “And please publicize this thing so no [Sabbath] violation will be prompted by me.”

The son of another rabbi whose endorsement appears in the video, Rabbi Noach Oelbaum (who says it does not violate the prohibition on Sabbath-day labor), said that his father’s position was distorted.

“I regret that my father’s position on kosher switch was misrepresented by stating that he endorses it
l’maaseh,” the son, Moshe Oelbaum, wrote in a statement, using the Jewish term for “regular use.”

Oelbaum said his father’s true position is that while the switch does not involve a technical violation of the Sabbath prohibition against labor (which forbids electricity use), it is a desecration of the Sabbath spirit. Oelbaum advises consumers to consult their own rabbis on the question of whether or not they may use it on Shabbat.

Kosher Switch is hardly the first technological innovation devised to ease Sabbath observance. For decades, Sabbath-observant Jews have used electronic timers set before Friday night to control lights and appliances like air conditioners or hot plates. Multistory buildings throughout Israel and some in the United States have Shabbat elevators that can run on autopilot.

The Zomet Institute, located in the Jerusalem suburb of Gush Etzion, in the West Bank, has invented baby sensors, sump pump gadgets, hot water heater contraptions, and special switches that modify wheelchairs, hospital beds, electronic scooters and staircase elevators for use on Shabbat. However, many of these devices rely on the gramma loophole and are permitted only for medical or
security use.

Rabbi Mordechai Hecht, a Chabad rabbi from Queens, New York, who appears in the Kosher Switch video saying “I was mesmerized to be blessed to see such an invention in my lifetime,” says the controversy surrounding its permissibility isn’t simply a fight over Jewish law.

“There’s politics in halachah,” he said. “The conversations they have are often money-related. Everyone has an agenda.”

Hecht said he cannot endorse or reject the product because he is not a halachic authority.

“Is there one way in halachah? Of course not. That’s why the sages say, ‘Make yourself a rabbi,’” Hecht said. “I think the rabbis need to be brave. A conversation needs to be had, and maybe this is a good place to have it. If there’s really a halachic issue, let’s talk about it. This is an amazing invention. The question is, can it enhance the Shabbos?”

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Sense of Urgency

‍‍2015-04-23 09:00:37 - כח כסלו תשעה ebrown

Addressing the guests of the United States Holocaust Mem-orial Museum’s 2015 National Tribute dinner, keynote speaker FBI Director James Comey called the Holocaust the most significant event in human history.

“It is of course significant because it was the most horrific display in the world of inhumanity,” Comey told the 1,000 donors, dignitaries and survivors gathered at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park in downtown D.C. on Wednesday, April 15.

“But I believe it was also the most horrific display in world history of our humanity, of our capacity for evil and for moral surrender.”

For this reason, he continued, all new FBI special agents and intelligence analysts are required to go to the museum, referring to the Law Enforcement and Society: Lessons of the Holocaust developed in conjunction with the Anti-Defamation League.

FBI Director James Comey (Photo United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

FBI Director James Comey (Photo United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

“Good people helped to murder millions. And that’s the most frightening lesson of all,” said Comey. “That is why I send our agents and our analysts to the museum. I want them to stare at us and realize our capacity for rationalization and moral surrender.”

Prior to Comey’s remarks, the 2015 Elie Wiesel Award was presented to Benjamin Ferencz and Judge Thomas Buergenthal. Ferencz is the last surviving prosecutor of the war crimes trials at Nuremberg. Ferencz was 27 years old when he successfully convicted 22 Einsatzgruppen — a particularly ruthless faction of German SS — who were charged with the murders of one million people. After the war, Ferencz helped lay the groundwork for the International Criminal Court.

“‘Never again’ has been happening ever again. We need laws and courts and enforcement. And the enforcement arm is very weak, so the public is the court of last resort,” Frencz said in a pre-taped message. “I turn the world now back to you and hope you’ll have a more peaceful world than I have seen. Good luck.”

Buergenthal, one of the youngest survivors of Auschwitz, served for 10 years as a judge to the International Court of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands. In his remarks, he drew parallels between himself and his friend, and the award’s namesake, Wiesel, and paid homage to the more than one million children murdered in the Holocaust.

“Think of the scientists, medical doctors, scholars, artists, musicians, poets, writers, astronomers, teachers and philosophers these children might have become had they been allowed to live,” he said. “We will never know how many future Nobel Prize winners were among the children who perished.”

Listening in appreciation were ADL National Director Abe Foxman, DNC Chair Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer and former Al-Quds University Professor Mohammed Dajani, who led Palestinian students on a visit to Auschwitz last year.

Judge Thomas Buergenthal (Photo United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Judge Thomas Buergenthal (Photo United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Seventy years after the liberation of the camps, the eyewitness generation is rapidly diminishing, creating a sense of urgency to preserve evidence and make it accessible to as broad an audience as possible. To that end, the USHMM has launched an ambitious $540 million comprehensive campaign to bolster the museum’s endowment, increase annual funds and finance a new Collections and Conservation Center.

On April 15, a ceremonial groundbreaking was held at the site of the David and Fela Shapell Family Collections and Conservation Center in Bowie.

“In the future — it could be a hundred years from now, 200 years from now — we can claim that something happened. But unless we can prove it, did it really happen?” said Irv Shapell, son of the center’s namesake. Without evidence, he continued, the door to denial is left open.

Among the items to be preserved at the new center are Ferencz’s papers.

Said USHMM Director Sara Bloomfield, “Technology has created a lot of problems [with Holocaust denial]. We can put all of this evidence online and make the truth accessible,” adding that the endeavor will take millions of dollars but will ultimately be an effective tool for global Holocaust education.

In a pre-taped video, Bloomfield summed up the urgency of preserving Holocaust artifacts.

“When the survivors and all the eyewitnesses are gone, this evidence, these collections, will be the sole authentic witness to the Holocaust. This is the most important building our Museum will ever build,” she said. “Our generation has one moment in time to safeguard truth.”

Days of Remembrance events continued last Thursday morning with a ceremony in the Emancipation Hall in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

FBI Director James Comey (Photo United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)
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Taking on the ‘Israel Lobby’

‍‍2015-04-17 09:15:37 - כח כסלו תשעה ebrown

A daylong seminar — “The Israel Lobby: Is It Good for the U.S.? Is It Good for Israel?” — was convened last Friday to discuss the so-called Jewish lobby’s power to influence politicians on Capitol Hill and the Obama administration.

Such perspectives are rarely heard, but a safe space was provided by the National Press Club, which allows organizations to hold events at its facilities without ideological consideration. The same room once hosted a mock congressional hearing with former members of Congress and government officials to hear testimony about whether the government is hiding contact with alien life forms. The mock committee concluded that the government was indeed hiding its interaction with space aliens.

Richard Falk, professor emeritus at Princeton University, accuses the United Nations of being biased against the Palestinians. (National Press Club)

Richard Falk, professor emeritus at Princeton University, accuses the United Nations of being biased against the Palestinians. (National Press Club)

Common conspiracies that the Israel lobby was responsible for every misfortune to befall the United States and the world were generally avoided by nearly all speakers, though factual inaccuracies throughout the day were plenty. Still, following the theme, every issue that was discussed was connected to the Jewish lobby’s power to influence politicians on Capitol Hill and the Obama administration.

Kicking off the conference, Grant Smith, director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy — an organizer of the event — bemoaned the proliferation of what he said had grown into  approximately 350 pro-Israel organizations in four distinct waves throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. The first wave was focused on state building; the second wave, fundraising; the third wave, media watchdog and think tanks; and the fourth wave, speech and campus monitoring.

All these groups, said Smith, were given tax-exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service.

“The Justice Department tried to get pro-Israel organizations to register as foreign agents seven times” when they first began to proliferate in the 1960s and 1970s but did not succeed, Smith said.

He said the time has come for the IRS to review the charitable status of these organizations, claiming that donations to pro-Israel groups in the United States fund Israel military operations.

Smith calculated that these groups have so far cost American taxpayers a total of $234 billion.

“Our question must be: How much are Americans at this point owed for all of the aid that was delivered on false pretext?” he said.

The few hundred supporters packing the event room at the National Press Club listened as Smith and a variety of pro-Palestinian activists complained about the restriction of their pro-Palestinian activism by college administrators, employers and international organizations.

A few former members of Congress — two of them addressed the gathering — were in attendance, reminiscing about their days fighting against the lobbying efforts of AIPAC and a slew of other pro-Israel organizations.

Rather than the college hippies one usually associates with these kinds of movements, the audience was made up almost entirely of professorial-looking, retired, baby boomers — nodding their heads or commenting to the side in disgust whenever a speaker would mentioned that Israel violated the human rights of the Palestinian people.

When not listening to the speeches inside the conference room, guests mingled with their ideological heroes in the hallway. Those heroes included Richard Falk, professor emeritus at Princeton University and former holder of the politically charged title of United Nations special rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967”; radical left-wing writer Gareth Porter; and Paul Pillar, Georgetown University nonresident fellow, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and CIA veteran.

Speaking about his experience with pro-Israel groups during his time prior to his ouster at the United Nations, Falk blamed pro-Israel watchdog groups for exerting pressure on the organization to ignore the Palestinian plight.

An “approach used on behalf of Israel to weaken and discredit the U.N. involves trying to both manipulate the organization and to undermine it at the same time. It is a very sophisticated kind of relationship that Israel has,” said Falk.

“It both pretends to be victimized by the organization, and yet because of its relationship to the U.S. and its clever use of these tactics, it intimidates the organization more than any other government however large or small,” he added. “It’s a kind of tour de force of a negative variety that it is able, despite being so uncooperative, to impose its views and the U.N.

“Rather than being biased [against Israel, the United Nations] leans over backward in every particular context to make sure that Israel’s best arguments are made fully available and given as much attention as possible. In other words, the reality is just the opposite of the perception in this country. If anything, the organization could be criticized as being indifferent to the Palestinian reality and biased toward not offending Israel.”

Event sponsors included the American Educational Trust, which publishes the anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian semimonthly publication “Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,” and Middle East Books and More, a Washington-area bookstore specializing in the pro-Palestinian cause.

dshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Richard Falk, professor emeritus at Princeton University, accuses the United Nations of being biased against the Palestinians. (National Press Club)
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Damage Control

‍‍2015-04-16 10:12:07 - כח כסלו תשעה lbridwell

041715_indianaThe talk at Rabbi Michael Friedland’s Seder table in South Bend, Ind., was about Memories Pizza in the small Indiana town of Walkerton. Not that the celebrants already had tired of unleavened food — rather, they were bemused at how the restaurant owner’s stand in favor of the state’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act was turned into a windfall.

“The owner said that if someone asked them to cater a gay wedding, they wouldn’t do it,” said Friedland, who leads Conservative Sinai Synagogue. A four-day crowdfunding campaign in support of the pizzeria, set up by conservative commentator Glenn Beck’s Blaze TV network, raised $842,387.

“Someone joked that the synagogue should come out in favor of discriminating against gays, and we could raise almost a million dollars, too,” Friedland said. “Somebody else asked who would go to a pizza parlor to cater a wedding.”

The catering question was hypothetical, and the pizzeria’s owner said they would serve gay couples in the restaurant.

But the national attention that focused on Indiana after Republican Gov. Mark Pence signed the bill into law on March 26 been something that Indianans — and the state’s 17,000 Jews — are unaccustomed to. The fact that in the face of national outrage the law’s proponents passed a “fix” a week later, which the governor signed. It says that religious freedom cannot come at the expense of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons has calmed the atmosphere for now.

“There’s a little bit of schadenfreude — that the governor was embarrassed and had to walk this back,” Friedland said.

Still, the unfriendly spotlight on Indiana — and the travel bans and beginnings of a commercial boycott — “is not how we want to be the center of attention,” said Rabbi Sandy Sasso, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis, the state capital.

“Every time I bump into someone, they say ‘I can’t believe this is happening. I’m so embarrassed.’ You really can’t go anywhere without people talking about it.”

In Evansville, at the southwest end of the state, Rabbi Gary Mazo, spoke at his Seder about the meaning of freedom in the context of the RFRA debate.

“I emphasized that in today’s world, where we are no longer slaves, we are compelled to focus our efforts on both remembering and working toward securing freedom for those who are oppressed, enslaved or persecuted,” said Mazo, of Reform Temple Adath B’nai Israel. “I then made it very clear that we live in a state that has sanctioned oppression and bigotry under the guise of religious freedom, and our job is to combat that.”

Mazo said the clarifying legislation passed on April 2 does not resolve the controversy. “It was too little, too late, and the law should never have been enacted and should be repealed.”

“At this point, we’re doing what we can to make sure the rights of minority religious communities are being addressed,” said David Sklar, director of government affairs for the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council, which opposed RFRA.

Sklar said the JCRC began discussing the bill last summer. The agency opposed the legislation and lobbied against it as “less of a specifically LGBT issue and more of an issue of potential discrimination,” he said.

“Decades of court precedent has resulted in a workable balance in Indiana between individual and religious freedoms. RFRA would upset the balance,” he explained.

And although Jews are protected by the constitutions of Indiana and the United States, “RFRA could cloud and confuse the landscape of religious freedom in the United States,” Sklar said.

Jews have come down on both sides of the issue, and an equal number of Jews testified before legislative committees for and against RFRA, Sklar added. But the overwhelming majority of Indiana Jews oppose the legislation, he said.

Rabbi Yisrael Gettinger, of Congregation B’nai Torah in Indianapolis, has come out in favor of RFRA. The Orthodox rabbi appeared with Pence in the photo taken at the first bill signing, along with “supportive lawmakers, Franciscan monks and nuns, Orthodox Jews and some of the state’s most powerful lobbyists on conservative social issues,” according to USA Today.

Gettinger declined to speak for this story. Last year, he explained his opposition to “homosexual acts” to the Indianapolis Star: “One cannot be more certain of something being inappropriate if it’s called an abomination in the Bible,” he said. “Those are not my words. Those are the Bible’s words. Those are God’s words.”

“Saying they didn’t mean to discriminate against gays was a little hard to buy.”

Critics of the bill say that it was not promoted to assure religious freedom, but to hold fallback position after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014 let stand a circuit court’s decision to strike down Indiana’s ban on gay marriage.

“Given who was at the original signing, saying they didn’t mean to discriminate against gays was a little hard to buy,” Friedland said. “Most people saw it as a reaction to the frustration that gay rights have moved to far.”

“It’s part of this trend after Hobby Lobby,” the Supreme Court decision that decided that a corporation can be considered a person under RFRA, said Rachel Laser, deputy director of the Religious Action Center of the Reform movement.

Laser and others interviewed for this article differentiated the Indiana RFRA — and others under consideration in Arkansas, North Carolina and elsewhere — from the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed under President Bill Clinton in 1993.

“It was to be a shield for religious people. It allowed a boy who wants to wear his yarmulke in school or the Catholic priest who wants to give communion wine to his child parishioners. These new RFRAs are intended to be used as a sword to discriminate,” Laser said.

Nineteen states have RFRA laws on the books. Asked why Indiana was singled out for attention, Sklar said one reason was that it had more potential than others to be discriminatory.

“In the Indiana law, what a person entails is much broader. And Indiana did not have the protections for LGBT persons in place that other states do.”

Although the fixed RFRA does not make gays a legally protected class, it does say they cannot be discriminated against.

“This is the first time that a state law makes a positive reference to LGBT Hoosiers,” Sasso said. “The only good thing to come out of this is the outrage of the community that forced the governor and legislators to revisit this.”

On April 9, Indianapolis diners at any of four restaurants owned by Patachou Inc. can support gay rights at what owner Martha Hoover calls a “sit-in.” All proceeds for a $50 four-course meal will go to Lamda Legal, a civil rights group supporting LGBT communities.

The event is an example of how Jewish entrepreneurs are joining others in the business community in opposing discriminatory legislation.

“If you allow any discrimination, who controls the leap to what comes next?” Hoover said.

She calls the Republican backing of RFRA “both a miscalculation and a tremendous lack of leadership. It did catch them off-guard and suggests how out of touch they are.”

That disconnect is particularly strong with young adults, said Rabbi Leonard Zukrow of Temple Beth-El, a Reform congregation in Munster, an Indiana town in suburban Chicago. “This is not an issue for them. Young people in Indiana are worried about jobs.”

“Our tradition speaks to inclusiveness,” he added, and quoted from the Passover Haggadah: “To all who are hungry come and eat.”

Indiana’s apparent lack of hospitality is ill-advised “for a state that is not a leading state for business opportunities,” Friedland said.

Following the passage of the “fix,” the governors of New York, Washington and Connecticut canceled their travel bans to Indiana.

The fix does not mean all is well in Indiana, Hoover said.

By “signing one law,” Pence “has damaged the state,” she said. “Our concern is, how long lasting is the damage?”

dholzel@washingtonjewishweek.com

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The Struggle Continues

‍‍2015-04-09 09:45:41 - כח כסלו תשעה ebrown

Ilya and Luba Tolkachov and their 22-month-old son live in a tiny one-room Kiev apartment, which they share with with Ilya’s mother. (Ben Sales)

Ilya and Luba Tolkachov and their 22-month-old son live in a tiny one-room Kiev apartment, which they share with with Ilya’s mother. (Ben Sales)

KIEV — In a crowded room of the Tolkachov family’s tiny apartment here, a couch and twin bed sit kitty-corner from each other, sandwiching a small crib. In another corner, a wooden table is cluttered with a computer and some toys.

Since October, three generations of the Tolkachov family — grandmother, parents and 22-month-old baby — have all slept in this one room. To keep clean what little space they have, everyone takes off their shoes when they come in.

The Tolkachovs weren’t always poor. Ilya, 26, worked for an import-export business in Lugansk, the war-torn city in eastern Ukraine. His wife, Luba, 28, was an administrator at the local university. Ilya’s mother, Maria, lived nearby with her husband, a retired Ukrainian army officer. In his spare time, Ilya gave photography lessons at the local branch of Hesed, a Jewish senior citizens center.

Last summer, the family began hearing explosions near their home in Lugansk. Ilya claims they saw Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 fall out of the sky in July after being shot down over Torez, Luba’s hometown.

After the crash, the family packed some clothes and went to visit Luba’s family in Kiev, intending to stay no longer than a few weeks. They have yet to return home.

“Everything that we have, we needed to leave in Lugansk,” Ilya said. “Our flat, all of our belongings, our memories, we have to leave in Lugansk. This is just one more step to a better life.”

So far, that better life has remained elusive. Ilya managed to find a job in his field, but due to the economic crisis that hit Ukraine because of the war, they make rent only with aid from Jewish organizations. His father remains in Lugansk, scared that he could be forced to re-enlist if he moves.

The Tolkachovs’ story is common among Jewish refugees in Kiev who fled their homes in the embattled eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatist forces have been fighting the Ukrainian army since last spring. Safe from bombs and gunfire, in the capital they face different hardships.

The Ukrainian hryvnia has lost more than half its value against the dollar just since January, shattering the economy and making even staple foods expensive. Refugees say it’s hard to find work or places to live in Kiev, where many locals view them as hostile elements — culturally Russian imports from a separatist region who have brought crisis upon themselves. According to the United Nations, nearly 1 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced as of February.

“There’s a stereotype that people don’t want to give those people apartments for rent or give people a job,” said Anna Bondar, public relations manager for the American-Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, or JDC, in the Kiev region. “They think in the beginning that these refugees were not against the situation, and many of them are pro-Russian, and that’s why they’re blaming them.”

JDC has aided more than 600 Jewish refugees in the Kiev area with help from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which has poured more than $19 million into Ukraine since December 2013. Through the local branch of Hesed and Beiteinu, a JDC center for youth and family programs, JDC provides newly arrived families three to six months of subsidies for food, clothes, toiletries, medicine and rent totaling up to about $250 a month. The centers also host programs for the elderly and families, as well as a Sunday school.

Nina Tverye, who left the eastern city of Donetsk with her grandson in July and attends Hesed’s day programs for the elderly, said “it makes it feel better” to spend time with other refugees. Tverye said refugees spend all their time talking about the war.

“From this we start the day, and with this we finish the day,” Tverye said. “We are always discussing what is happening.”

Children from the Russian-speaking east face the added challenge of integrating into Ukrainian-speaking schools. At Or Avner, a Chabad-run elementary and middle school in Kiev, 15 refugees have been absorbed into a student body of 160, and the school provides tutors to help with the language difficulty as well as clothes and daily hot meals to take home.

But though a psychologist visits the school weekly to meet with refugees, the school has treaded lightly in explaining the war to its students. Teachers are afraid of wading into a controversial subject, so they stick instead to biblical tales on the importance of welcoming guests.

“Children are very sensitive, so when the parents are tense — they lost their job, the future is in question — we receive frightened, nervous, foreign children,” said Elka Ina Markovitch, the school’s founder. “When a child comes from a stable family, they still react in as calm a way as possible. An unstable family reacts unstably.”

Jewish aid workers all say the Jewish community harbors less animosity toward Jewish refugees than Kievans in general. But the burden of helping Jewish refugees has fallen to international groups like IFCJ rather than local Ukrainian Jewish organizations.

Donetsk Rabbi Pinchas Vishetsky, who has seen his city’s community dwindle from 10,000 before the war to 2,000 now, left for Kiev in August. He now manages the Donetsk community’s religious, educational and charity programs from afar, largely through IFCJ funding. He has given up hope of returning anytime in the near future.

“The Ukrainian Jews are in a complex situation, they’re in a complex economic crisis,” Vishetsky said. “They need to take care of the local Jewish community before they take care of communities affected by war. I hope God will do what’s needed. I have stopped hoping and started living with reality.”

Ilya and Luba Tolkachov and their 22-month-old son live in a tiny one-room Kiev apartment, which they share with with Ilya’s mother. (Ben Sales)
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